SCARSDALE, N.Y. (WTNH) – Officials identified the five Connecticut residents, aged 8 to 17, who died in a car crash early Sunday morning in New York.
Westchester County officials said a 16-year-old boy, identified as Malik Smith, was driving a Nissan Rogue on the Hutchinson River Parkway in Scarsdale, New York, when the vehicle left the road, struck a boulder and a tree, and then caught on fire around 12:20 a.m.
Officials said Smith, 17-year-old Anthony Billips Jr., 12-year-old Zahnyiah Cross, 11-year-old Shawnell Cross and 8-year-old Andrew Billips were all killed in the crash. Police said they were all from Derby.
A 9-year-old boy, the sixth person in the Nissan Rogue, was the only survivor, according to the Westchester County Police Department. The boy was “apparently riding in the rear hatchback/cargo area and escaped out the rear,” according to police. The boy was taken to an area hospital with cuts and is expected to survive.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer and Public Safety Commissioner Terrance Raynor provided an update Monday afternoon, calling it a “horrific” crash and scene. It was not “easily found” if the occupants were wearing seat belts due to the burned condition of the vehicle.
New York officials said that the vehicle wasn’t speeding, but that Malik Smith did not have a driver’s license or permit. They believe he was either distracted or fell asleep. If he did have a permit, then he would not have been legally able to drive at night.
The vehicle was also rented by a relative, according to officials. Investigators are working to see how Malik Smith had access to it.
Authorities are awaiting toxicology results. The family has been cooperative with the investigation.
Matt Conway, the superintendent of schools in Derby, said he learned the children were part of a family that had recently moved to the New Haven County community from New York but had not enrolled in the district. Conway said he reached out to the father on Sunday and offered to provide him with information about available support in the community for him and his family. He planned to talk with the father again on Monday.
The video below is from News 8 at 10 p.m. on March 19, 2023.
“It’s the unimaginable,” Conway said. “Having to now make arrangements for five of your children to be buried is a very difficult thing for anyone — one child, never mind five, that you’re going to have to now make arrangements for,” Conway said.
ABC7 New York spoke to the family, and they said the six siblings and cousins were driving home to Derby from a mall. The family said the teenage driver might have fallen asleep at the wheel.
Neighbors were shocked to hear about the crash.
“I can’t even imagine the fathers losing that many kids on a day like today,” Marc Garofalo, Derby’s city clerk, told News 8. “My heart goes out to the family. We’re a small community, so we come together in times of tragedy.”
“I have three daughters, and I can’t imagine them driving that far and that happening,” said Nicole Capela from Shelton. “It’s my biggest anxiety.”
Sarita Vargas, who owns Sarita Deli and Grocery, said the children would stop by daily.
“They would come and talk to me about brother-sister stuff or want advice,” she said.
They’d asked if they could call her “Mom.”
“I’m like, fine,” she said. “I’m mom. I say, they were my kids.”
She’s in disbelief after the crash.
“They were just a great family,” Vargas said. “They always stick together — you see one, you see all of them.”
Derby Mayor Richard Dziekan said that the community will stick together and do whatever it can to help the family.
“Being a small town, if somebody hurts, we all hurt,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.